Keegan Kanzig Was Pretty Solid Against Kootenay

So, the Calgary Hitmen beat the Kootenay Ice last night, completing their seven-game series with a rather one-sided 6-2 victory at the Saddledome.

Functionally-speaking, it was the competition of a de facto Best of Nine series, as the Hitmen and Ice played a home-and-home series to end the regular season as well.

One of the crucial aspects of the series? The matching by Calgary Hitmen coach Mark French of behemoth defenseman (and Calgary Flames prospect) Keegan Kanzig against 2014 second overall draft pick Sam Reinhart.

One year ago, the Calgary Hitmen hit a roadblock on their run to a WHL Championship. That roadblock? Sam Reinhart. The Hitmen got beaten by the Ice in six games, and Reinhart – en route to being the WHL’s highest pick in years – had 17 points. In six games.

Reinhart’s skillset is well-documented. He’s fast. He’s smart with the puck. He’s a pretty slick passer. The only thing he’s not is big. He’s 6’1″, 190 pounds. But last season, the Hitmen didn’t have (a) a big-ass body to throw at him, or (b) a coach that was willing to throw a body at him.

Enter Keegan Kanzig.

Now, I only watched the first and seventh games of the series live, but this was what I was told about the first six games: Kanzig was making life hell for Reinhart in Calgary, to the point where the Ice were doing whatever they could at home to avoid that match-up.

Wanting to see how Kanzig was performing at this very specific job, I tracked every Kanzig shift. He played a power-play shift late in the game – he’s been operating at the screening guy because he’s gigantic – and a couple penalty kills. Other than that, he’s the basic template: whoever was next up in the rotation went on normally, unless Sam Reinhart (and occasionally Luke Philip) were on, in which case Kanzig was thrown back out. This resulted in a lot of different partners for Kanzig:

  • 9 shifts with Colby Harmsworth
  • 8 shifts with Michael Zipp
  • 6 shifts with Ben Thomas
  • 3 shifts with Travis Sanheim

After the game, Kanzig explained that he didn’t really focus all that much on who he was playing with – he ended up playing both the left and right side – or who was against, but merely playing his style of game. He had a few big hits in the Calgary zone and was pretty effective at using his freakishly-long reach for poke-checks. There was a couple that led to scoring chances going the other way for the Hitmen. But mostly he closed the gaps between him and the puck carrier quickly and chipped the puck out, which very rarely involved much puck-handling. In the press box, we were joking that he was “Glass and Out” Kanzig.

All-told, in a 6-2 win, Kanzig was a +3 – he was on the ice for four of five even-strength Hitmen goals and Jaedon Descheneau’s goal late in the game when the Hitmen got a little cute with their defensive play due to their big lead. And to be honest, Descheneau was full marks on that goal – he motored into the slot and just leaned into one. The other Kootenay goal was scored by Sam Reinhart on a tip-in, but it’s worth noting that it was in the second period when Kootenay had the short change into the offensive zone from their bench, and that Keegan Kanzig hadn’t gotten onto the ice yet because of that situation.

Kanzig definitely isn’t a perfect ice hockey player, but he was pretty effective in his role during the series. When I spoke with Hitmen coach Mark French prior to Game 7, he was praising Kanzig’s determination and called him a “heavy player.” This will be unpopular amongst some, but two comparisons that Kanzig liked we when chatted were Matt Greene and Deryk Engelland – they’re both bottom-pairing NHLers, mind you, but they play meat-and-potatoes, physical games. And they’re both NHLers, and that’s something that Kanzig obviously wants to be.

I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the Hitmen are moving onto the next round of the playoffs because of Keegan Kanzig. Kanzig was used quite effectively by Mark French, but Kanzig himself didn’t really do anything spectacular and he didn’t contribute a ton of offense, he merely negated some of Kootenay’s. I also don’t want to say that Sam Reinhart was ineffective in Game 7 because of the Kanzig match-up all series; all I know is that Reinhart wore Kanzig like a big sweater for the four games in Calgary but he still put up points during those games. But Kootenay did everything they could to avoid the Reinhart/Kanzig match-up during the games in Cranbrook, and Reinhart seemed worn out in Game 7.

This type of match-up can probably give you a bit of an indication as to what the Flames (and Hitmen) probably see Kanzig’s value and deployment options as. He likely will be used in a similar shut-down role in Stockton next season.

The Hitmen begin their second round series against the Medicine Hat Tigers on Friday.

  • playastation

    Huge dude guards small dude.

    So Buffalo has a shot at McJesus and already has Reinhart?

    I would look to getting Kane out of there before those kids make the team.

    I’m not saying he would influence them… but I’m saying he might influence them.

    What.

  • mattyc

    “was pretty solid”, “Matt Greene and Deryk Engelland”, “didn’t really do anything spectacular”, “meat-and-potatoes, physical games”.

    If this is as good as we get to a positive scouting report, color me skeptical he’s a future NHLer.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Rather than focus on the words, it might be more valid to focus on the results. Kanzig shut down arguably one of the best CHLers out there over a series that allowed the team to win, versus that same player single-handedly killing the Hitmen a year ago. Kinda like why a lot of people sing Backlund’s praises(though in a different way…) even though he’s never broken out offensively nor done anything spectacular but still contributes mightily to the team’s successes.

      • mattyc

        Kanzig shut down arguably one of the best CHLers out there over a series that allowed the team to win

        The problem is you can’t prove causality. Just because Reinhart didn’t score a lot, and Kanzig played against him a lot, doesn’t mean Reinhart didn’t score because of Kanzig. If you found that in aggregate top players didn’t score against Kanzig, (like people have found with Backlund) I would be excited, but so far there isn’t any evidence to affirm that. How do you know Kanzig wasn’t just lucky? Maybe Reinhart was tired? Maybe Reinhart’s linemates were worse/played worse, maybe Reinhart just got a few unlucky breaks. These are all plausible things.

        @ Stan (and others)

        I think it comes down to a philosophical view on drafting. Why bother drafting the Matt Greenes and Deryk Engellands of the world? 3rd pairing defensemen are always available, and usually pretty cheap. Might as well swing for the fences and try to get players that aren’t easy to acquire via trades or FAs.

        • Shooter 5567

          That’s alright if you always want to try and recycle someone else’s garbage. Why not pick a few of those out of our own garden. It’s not like we spent a first round pick.

        • Shooter 5567

          If third pairing defenders are so dam easy to find (as you claim) then why are we paying Smid and Engelland a combined 6.5 mill a season to be glorified pylons (Engelland has stepped up admirably lately to be fair, but you get my point).

          Personally, I would prefer to draft and develop our own prospects into GOOD third pairing defenders. The alternative is pursuing NOT good, but serviceable defenders that you have to WAY overpay in free agency (ie. Engelland).

          • Parallex

            “then why are we paying Smid and Engelland a combined 6.5 mill a season”

            Because first Feaster and then Treliving screwed up.

            The alternative would be to point out Schlemko and Diaz (both better then Smid and Engellend IMO) who cost less then a third of that total in $ and cost us nothing in assets.

            I’m with mattyC you just shouldn’t spend a draft pick (ANY draft pick from the first to the seventh round) on guys that project as replacement level players.

            What I find strange is that he self-compared himself that way couldn’t he have compared himself to Regehr… at least? Or some other D-man with limited two-way appeal that can or could lay claim to being an adaquate top 4 defender? I suppose I’d rather he be self-aware enough to not say Chara but I’d hope that Kanzig would aspire to more then Engellend.

          • Parallex

            You’re reading way too much into this. Don’t forget Connor McDavid thinks he’s the next Tyler Bozak.

            It’s just public humility. Kanzig has mentioned that Chara is his favourite player, which is probably a better indication of his ambition.

        • The Last Big Bear

          Drafting Kanzig is pretty much the dictionary definition of swinging for the fences.

          Kanzig is an absolute freak of nature. If he can be taught to play the game at an NHL level, then the sky is the limit.

          Yeah, he’s probably going to bust. So is literally every single other kid still available by round 3.

          But this is EXACTLY what swinging for the fences looks like.

  • Parallex

    If he can keep improving and turn into a solid third pairing, physical dman then what more could you want? Isn’t that exactly what we need right now – an upgrade on the third pairing? Not every prospect is going to have first line potential.

    Let’s look at the facts of the series. He was purposefully matched up against the opposing teams best player (a former #2 overall draft pick that torched the hitmen for 17 points in 7 games last spring). Over the entire 7 game series, Kanzig helped hold him to 9 points (majority of which came on the PP). He finished the series as a +10 and the opposing coaches avoided matching their best player against him as much as possible. Those are all encouraging signs for me.

    Kanzig was never gonna be a top pairing defenceman, has always projected as a physical, shut down, depth pairing, which is a great thing to have on any NHL team. Don’t know what more people expect from him.

  • It will be interesting to see if Kanzig can transfer his shut-down abilities to the next level. The challenge for a guy his size, who can compete based on being a man amongst boys in junior, is being able to think and execute fast enough in the pros to be effective. Everyone he’ll meet in the NHL is either man sized or good enough that size isn’t as big a factor anymore (ex: Johnny Gaudureau).

    He’s definitely got NHL size. The question is if he has NHL skating and puck skills.

  • BurningSensation

    The average number of ‘legit’ NHL players a team can expect to find in a draft is 1.5 (3 players for every two drafts).

    Not all of those players are going to be 1st line guys, some are going to be human earth-movers you deploy strategically on your lower lines, and that is what Kanzig looks to be.

    If he plays at all, it’s a win. If he turns into an average or better D-man, it’s a gigantic win.

    Pun intended.

    • Parallex

      Sure, but the range of outcomes isn’t just 1st line or bust. There are lots of guys that are drafted with visions of playing at the top of the depth chart but eventually settle into a role on the bottom half… it seems like a waste to spend a pick on a guy that basically has a realistic range of depth defenseman or bust.

      • BurningSensation

        It may seem like a waste, but any player you develop to be an actual player is one less player you have to aquire (at cost) from elsewhere.

        Personally I’m holding out hope he becomes our Kjell Samuellson.

      • everton fc

        Without getting into a basic philosophical disagreement on drafting, I would say that to be successful you need a solid team in every position, and those positions vary tremendously in scope and responsibility. Trying for the fences with every swing is not a sound strategy. There are many different roles that need filling, and different fundamentally different players to fill that role. Beyond that, drafting 18 year old kids is largely a crap shoot, and nobody can accurately project how they all will develop.

        Kanzig brings strengths to the table no one else in the Flames system does. Personally I’m excited to see his continued development and hope it continues many years again.

        • Parallex

          Well yes of course you do… what I’m saying is that you ought to draft folk with more readily apparent upside then just “depth player”. It’s about having a wider range of outcomes. Guys with bigger upside can fall short of that upside and still make the NHL guys with low upside can’t. Personally I think it was just Feaster pandering to his new boss’s well-known size fetish.

          @pistolpete

          … Our current top line LW was drafted in a round lower then that (as was one of our leading defensemen).

  • Parallex

    How old is Kanzig? 19? 20?

    Let’s let the guy develop his game before we call him a third pairing defensman. Even Zdeno Chara wasn’t a stat machine in Junior. Last I checked Kanzig makes Engelland look like Kris Russell in terms of size.

    Dmen are always a work in progress… That Kanzig is his team’s best +/- guy by a good margin is only encouraging. Kanzig has a long road to the NHL, and he’ll start as a third pairing guy. But none of that means he has no upside. A decade ago none of us would have believed Mark “KHL” Giordano would go on to become our franchise player, even though he had the tools even then.

    Dmen are fickle like that.

  • BurningSensation

    Chara is a pretty good role model. So is the newly rejuvenated Tyler Myers a little east of here.

    Reports after KK was drafted were that he first concentrated on foot speed followed by fitness the following summer.

    This year his lesson plan apparently focused on defensive play, positioning and awareness along with adding experience as a premiere shutdown defenceman in a playoff series.

    Next year perhaps his development plan will include stickhandling, quick outlet passing and shooting?

    Would be great to think the Flames could home-grow a Myers or Chara and add a little needed bite to our defensive corps.

    Per Saturday night roundtable with George, Kelly, PJ et al …teams are transitioning from 4 heavy defenders and 2 skilled puck-moving D to 2 heavy 4 skilled. Would be a fantastic find if KK can secure one of these positions!

  • everton fc

    I actually think Kanzig playing one year in the AHL will tell us all a lot. If he continues to prove he can be a half-decent shut-down guy, and learns to skate better… He may just make it.

    I still hope they sign Eric Roy, as well.

  • Let’s “hold the phone” until KK has a year or so in the pro’s to pass judgment. For now “the evidence would suggest that he was effective or at least partially responsible for shutting down “Sam” in the Ice series.
    Tyler Myers went from rookie of the year in Buffalo to being expendable to being a stud in the “peg”. Give the kid a chance!

  • I really hate articles like this. FN.

    Blatant attempt at currying favour for press pass privileges. How much did they offer you for this article, Ryan?

    c’mon – really? You expect me to believe this tripe??

    This was a reactionary pick based on a perceived lack of Size. The team showing if you play the right way. Size is not necessary.
    Brian Burke and his size hardon needs to gtfo.